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Trump wrong on trade

President Trump would hurt Wisconsin's economy and jobs by inciting a trade war or pulling out of NAFTA.

As President Donald Trump threatens a trade war with some of our nation’s closest allies, the latest census numbers on Wisconsin imports and exports show how risky and misguided his combative approach is.

Wisconsin is running a trade surplus with Mexico and Canada, according to 2017 census data. Wisconsin exported $3.2 billion of products to Mexico last year, compared to $2.9 billion in imports from Mexico. Wisconsin also exported more to Canada, $6.9 billion of products, than the $4.3 billion our state imported.

The census numbers aren’t precise because of how some goods arrive and leave the state. Nonetheless, union leaders and others in Wisconsin who support Trump’s short-sighted trade policies have cited the census data in the past when it suggested the North American Free Trade Agreement was benefiting Mexico and Canada more than Wisconsin. But that trend has reversed, with Wisconsin getting ahead.

That’s why bipartisan support for free trade with our NAFTA partners remains strong, despite the president’s reckless rhetoric. From House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, and Republican Gov. Scott Walker on the right, to U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, on the left, advocates of opening markets and allowing more people to buy and sell the products they make and need are speaking out for Wisconsin businesses and consumers.

We urge more of the state’s delegation in Washington to oppose the president’s outdated view of the global economy, which pretends free trade is a zero-sum game, rather than an opportunity for all parties.

Most of the world’s middle class lives outside of the United States. And that population is only going to grow. So Wisconsin needs access to rapidly expanding overseas markets to prosper.

The latest U.S. Census data shows Wisconsin sold $1.7 billion of products to China last year, while importing $7.1 billion. That’s a large trade deficit.

But America doesn’t have a free-trade agreement with China. Moreover, Trump’s proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum would hit Canada and other allies harder than China. Where America has negotiated trade deals, U.S. citizens have enjoyed trade surpluses in manufacturing, agriculture and services — all areas benefiting our state.

No trade deal is perfect, and some industries face more foreign competition than others, which can cost some jobs. But automation is a bigger factor than trade deals in changing how people work and what jobs are available. Wisconsin enjoys low unemployment and needs more workers. So even if some careers must change, workers still have lots of opportunity. And overall, free-trade deals have built prosperity around the globe, including in America.

Trump’s fiery and simplistic, us-versus-them talk on trade will only hurt our state and nation if the president’s threats are implemented.

Wisconsin’s political leaders and the voting public should make sure that doesn’t happen.